Reeta Chakrabarti (1983)

When Reeta left KEHS in 1983, little did she know that she would be the face of some of the most influential news stories of the last twenty years.

Reeta was born in London, the first daughter of an Indian Bengali family. Though she was ultimately raised in Birmingham, Reeta spent some of her youth in India, receiving part of her education at Calcutta International School.

Reeta left KEHS in 1983, having taken eighteen months out before returning to School for Sixth Form. She speaks of her time at Sixth Form with real affection: a period of “enquiry and growth”, it proved catalytic in shaping her passion for current affairs. Lunchtime discussions with friends covered a wide range of current affairs including the charged Arab-Israeli Conflict and Cold War, during a self-described phase of “intellectual flowering” for her peer group, whom she describes drolly as a ‘serious-minded bunch’.

Nurtured by exceptional teachers, Reeta still recalls the passionate Miss Jones and Mrs Moule with great fondness. Encouraged to read broadly and remain open-minded, she contributed to Phoenix and participated in the Shakespeare Society whilst undertaking A Levels in English, History, and French.

Reeta’s next adventure took her to Oxford’s Dreaming Spires, where she read English and French at Exeter College. Forays into student journalism were marked by a daunting impression of others’ extreme confidence, and it was not until graduating that Reeta embarked upon journalism in earnest, seizing every opportunity which was offered. Returning to Birmingham, she made enquiries to shadow at the Birmingham Mail and Post, BBC Radio WM, and and a television programme at the BBC’s former headquarters at Pebble Mill. Though Reeta initially wanted to go into print journalism, her path took a rather different turn: “I thought I wanted to go into print [journalism], but a very nice woman at BBC Radio in Birmingham took me under her wing and said ‘look, come and work with me’. That is how I became a broadcaster and I love it ”. Under Anita Bhalla’s tutelage, Reeta quickly picked up the ropes of radio – though always with one eye on her Holy Grail: the News Desk!

It was a case of third time lucky when she applied, and was successful in joining, one of the BBC’s highly regarded trainee scheme. The gruelling 18-month programme involved learning how to write for radio, acquiring legal know-how, and dummy runs as a producer and presenter, as well as a trip to Belfast during the Troubles, and to Strasbourg to see the European Parliament in action. It was during this time Reeta learned the value of resilience and the importance of asking questions: “It’s better to ask and be thought foolish, than to get it wrong!”

In those early days, Reeta worked as a producer on the Today Programme, World at One, and PM. Though she admits to having been ‘terrified and out of my depth working alongside so many clever, sophisticated types’, she now reflects that girls and young women can be too hard on themselves, and encourages today’s young career women to remain resilient, always ask for feedback, and objectively identify how they can distinguish themselves in an ever more competitive global workforce.

Reeta went on to report for 5 Live Breakfast, and by 1997 had branched out into television, working first as Community Affairs Correspondent. It was in this post that she reported on the Stephen Lawrence inquest and the subsequent public inquiry, a story spanning more than a decade and exposing the institutional racism of the police force of the time.
Since then Reeta has reported across numerous areas and covered many of the most notable stories of recent years, from tuition fees and academisation, to the MP expenses scandal. Reeta has taken every opportunity to report on those issues that matter to her: in the UK, she has investigated stories relating to adoption, poverty and social mobility; abroad, she has looked at the success of women bankers in India, the healthier pace of life in Denmark, and most recently interviewed the perpetrators and victims of human trafficking in Albania.

Reflecting on a successful career, Reeta feels that she is representative of many women across a range of sectors who gain in assurance as they become more senior, gaining trust and a robust sense of self-belief along the way. She is thankful to those early female pioneers of broadcasting who were “in the vanguard”, and who helped to ensure that those who followed were able to balance work and motherhood in what used to be a “pretty male place”.

As a mother of three, Reeta also sympathises with the challenges women face when balancing the two – “you can’t do everything at the same time” – but is thankful that her career has, whilst unpredictable, allowed her to work flexibly. She hopes that this flexibility will afford many more women the freedom to follow their dreams of broadcast journalism, and that her generation will, as that which came before hers, pave the way for successive legions of female journalists to follow in their footsteps.

Resilience, resourcefulness, and self-belief: today’s KEHS girls will benefit hugely from Reeta’s invocation as they step forward into an ever more complex world – a world Reeta brings into millions of people’s homes every night.